Archive for the 'cake' Category

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Kitchen Histories: Buche de Noel

bucheBuch de Noel from a tree trunk cake mold.

To celebrate Christmas Eve Eve (Festivus, to some) I present the story of Buche de Noel, or Christmas Log, a delicious cake that hails from France.

Get all festive by reading it here.

History Dinner: Poor Man’s Potage and Tomato Soup Cake

Tomato Soup Cake.  You’d never guess the secret ingredient. (it’s love!)

Last summer, I spent a week dining on recipes from MFK Fisher’s book How to Cook a Wolf. After I finished the project, there were two recipes I still wanted to try: Quick Potato Soup and Tomato Soup cake.  So I invited over a few friends and we dined.

Soup was first, served with buttered, fresh-baked bread:

Modern technology has made this recipe easier: instead of hand-grating a million potatoes, I used an immersion blender.  I softened then onions first, simmering them slowly in a whole stick of butter.  Delicious.  Then I added the potatoes, cubed but unpeeled, and about a quart of water.  I brought them to a boil and cooked the mixture until the potatoes were fork tender.  I heated a quart of whole milk on the stove while I used my blender to puree the soup.  I left it a little chunky, ’cause that’s how I roll.  I tasted the soup and added a generous quantity of salt and some pepper.

I used about 3/4 the amount of liquid that Fisher recommends; when I initially added the milk, the soup looked too thin.  But I let it bubble away on a low heat for about 30 minutes and it thickened up to a pleasant consistency.  This morning, the leftovers were souper thick, which is how I like it.

I served the soup topped with what I thought was flat leaf parsley, but was actually cilantro.  It didn’t matter, it was really tasty.  I also sprinkled parmesan cheese over top, which put a nice finish on the soup.  Simple ingredients, simple preparation, and simply delicious: the qualities that Fisher’s recipes are known for.

Potato and Onion Soup– one of the most perfect foods.

Dessert was Tomato Soup Cake:

The “soda” is baking soda and can be whisked in with the flour and spices.  I left out the clove, which I find to be an overpowering flavor, and used a very satisfactory blend of 1 tsp cinnamon, and a 1/2 tsp each nutmeg and ginger.  My “what you will” was one fuji apple and 3/4 cup chopped walnuts.  And yes: I added one can of Campbell’s “Soup at Hand” Classic Tomato Soup.

I didn’t make the frosting of “cream cheese and powdered sugar and a little rum” that Fisher recommends, although it sounds awesome.  I made a glaze with confectioner’s sugar and the juice and zest of a lemon.  Although the cake is great without frosting, too.

“This is a pleasant cake,” Fisher says, “which keeps well and puzzles people who ask what kind it is.”  I let my guests venture guesses as to the surprise ingredient.  They were nearly finished with their cake slices when someone finally said “Tomatoes?”  Initially, everyone dropped their cake in horror.  Then they found peace with the idea and wolfed the remainder down.

The cake was incredibly moist–shockingly most–without being heavy.  The spice blend was perfect.  Maybe you could taste tomatoes, but I’m not sure: I think it just added richness and depth to the other flavors.  And since the soup replaces milk and eggs, the cake is also vegan (as long as you use shortening, not butter).

I would absolutely, without a doubt make this cake again.

The History Dish: My Grandma’s Coconut Cake

Orange and Almond Cake with Meringue Frosting and Fresh Coconut.

I have very few taste memories from my grandmother.  By the time I was born, most of what she cooked came from boxes and cans, and there was an endless supply of Twinkies in the cabinet.  But when my mother was a little girl, my grandmother would cook, and bake, from scratch.

My mother always talks about a cake that her mother made once a year, at Easter.  A coconut cake.  “It was so good,”  my mother said. “It tasted

Boyfriend Brian bangs the nut.


best right after the frosting went on and the coconut was sprinkled on top.  My mother made it from a real coconut.  We had to grate it by hand. It was horrible.

“I think my mom would have used the recipe for yellow cake and white mountain frosting (I think it’s also called 7-minute frosting) from the Settlement Cookbook.  Preparing a coconut is a bitch. I’m sure you’ll find directions on the Food Network website.  Basically, you puncture the eyes with a hammer and nail, and then bake the whole coconut in the oven (I don’t know at what temperature and for how long) until the shell cracks, and then you wrap it in a towel and hit it with a hammer until it breaks in pieces, and then you pry the shell off the pieces, and then you peel the tough outer skin off the coconut meat, and then you grate it.  I would have (roommate) Jeff do all that!

“The coconut goes on while the frosting is wet (she kind of swirled the frosting on). And you have to do it pretty fast because the frosting crusts over quickly.  The cake lasts a long time, but the frosting starts to–I don’t know–dissolve after a couple of days.”

One day, a coconut just appeared on the kitchen table in my apartment.  I asked Roommate Jeff where it came from. “I dunno. I found it.” was his response.

I took it as a sign: coconut cake would happen this Easter.

I started tonight, by attacking the coconut.  Mom was right, directions can be found on the Food Network website here (Thanks, Alton Brown!).  Preparing the coconut was somehow both extremely laborious and not as difficult as I has expected.  It took about three hours and tasted no different that pre-shredded coconut from a bag.

I have my grandmother’s copy of  the Settlement Cookbook (the way to a man’s heart!), and I paged through it, unable to find a yellow cake recipe, unsure if this was the right book at all.  I stumbled upon a recipe for coconut layer cake that suggested using the white cake recipe on page 424.  On 424, I found this:

That’s my grandmother’s handwriting.  I love little notations in the margins of cookbooks–marks of personal preference and improved recipes.  But usually I find these notes amongst the books and recipes of strangers, unearthed at flea markets and garage sales.  Never had I seen such a cherished notation in my grandmother’s hand.

Who did she write it for? Surely she could remember that she preferred orange zest, not lemon.  Did she write it for my mom?  For the future? For me?

I zested an orange.  I beat the egg whites to soft peaks and set them aside, then sifted together Swan Cake Flour (a very old brand, still available) and baking powder, and set it aside, too.  I creamed butter and sugar; then, with the mixer on low, I added the flour and milk, alternating between the two.  I mixed until the batter was smooth, then added the almond flavoring and the orange zest; last, I folded in the egg whites.

My mother distinctly remembers this cake being baked in a plain square pan.  My grandmother would frost it right there in the pan; simple, easy and delicious.  I realized too late that I needed to double the recipe for my square pan; so instead, I baked it in a round, 9-inch pan. 375 degrees, for 20-25 minutes.  It came out of the oven looking perfect, despite the fact that I was tired and forgot to set a timer.

Here’s the frosting:

I made the frosting a little different: I cooked the first four ingredients in a metal mixing bowl over a double boiler until the sugar was dissolved and the liquid was hot to the touch.  Then I removed it from the heat and used my upright mixer to whip it until stiff peaks formed.  I gently mixed in the vanilla last.  After you frost the cake, sprinkle it with coconut immediately, before the frosting firms up.

The cake was a huge hit: despite the bounty of our Easter potluck, everyone managed to find room to cram in a slice of cake.  It was fluffy and not too sweet and the orange and the almond was a great flavor combo.  Guests were eating leftover frosting by the spoonful it was so good. The coconut was fine.  Get it from a bag.


Chocolate Delight: Tunnel of Fudge Cake

Tunnel of Fudge cake bakes up tall, with a glossy, brownie-like crust.  Break pieces off and eat it; no one will know.

I’m wrapping up Chocolate Delight week with a bang: a cake that has a built-in Tunnel of Fudge.

The legend of this cake was related to me by Jessica, the author of Pictures of Cake.  This cake won second place at the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-off, losing to ‘”golden gate snack bread,”‘  a yeast bread made with instant flour, processed cheese spread, dry onion soup mix and butter.(source)”  Blech.  The snack bread has been long forgotten, while Tunnels of Fudge lives on.

The Tunnel of Fudge cake was a technical revolution: first, it produced a moist cake with a fudgy, uncooked center, perhaps the ancestor of the modern Molten Chocolate Cake.  Second, it used a Bundt pan.  For a little more information on that, take a look at Jessica’s invitation to her ToF Cake party:

Third, this cake is quite possible the least healthy thing I have ever made.  It contains approximately 60 eggs, 1 millions pounds of butter, and 20 cups of sugar.  Originally, it was made with a pre-packaged, powdered frosting mix called Double Dutch Fudge Buttercream.  

Tunnel of Fudge Cake(original recipe)
1 1/2 cups soft Land O’ Lakes Butter
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups Pillsbury’s Best Flour (Regular, Instant Blending or Self Rising*)
1 package Pillsbury Double Dutch Fudge Buttercream Frosting Mix
2 cups chopped Diamond Walnuts

Oven 350° [ed. 350 F / 175 C]
10-inch tube cake

Cream butter in large mixer bowl at high speed of mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Gradually add sugar, continue creaming at high speed until light and fluffy. By hand, stir in flour, frosting mix, and walnuts until well blended. Pour batter into greased Bundt pan or 10-inch Angel Food tube pan. Bake at 350° for 60 to 65 minutes. Cool 2 hours, remove from pan. Cool completely before serving.

Note: Walnuts, Double Dutch Fudge Frosting Mix and butter are key to the success of this unusual recipe. Since cake has a soft fudgy interior, test for doneness after 60 minutes by observing dry, shiny brownie-type crust.


After the frosting mix was discontinued, Pillsbury developed a modern recipe which you can find here. This is the recipe I baked from, with a few minor changes that I will include below.

Tunnel of Fudge Cake, REMIXXXX

Adapted from and
The 17th Annual Pillsbury Busy Lady Bake-Off Cookbook, 1966

2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups  (2 and 3/4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
6 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups chopped walnuts (the recipe notes that “Nuts are essential for the success of this recipe.” ha!)

1. Grease a bundt pan and dust with additional cocoa powder.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt.  Set aside.

3. Cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about three minutes at medium speed.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each one.

4. With mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients.  Scrape bowl, then mix until combined.

5. With a spatula, fold in walnuts.  Spoon batter into bundt pan; bake 45 minutes or until top has a dry, shiny brownie-type crust.  Cool upright in pan on wire rack 1 1/2 hours. Invert onto serving plate; cool at least 2 hours.


Can someone please tell me how to get a cake out of a bundt pan?  Mine always comes out in broken, shameful pieces.

When I cut my cake, it wasn’t puking out fudge like in the 1966 photo; but, running down the middle was a dense spine of goopy fudgeness.  My oven tends to run a little hot, so I think the cake was slightly over-baked: ten minutes less would have allowed a much thicker fudge vein.

The cake was good; the walnuts were a nice break from what would have been a total chocolate assault.  But the cake also had a greasy mouth-feel thanks to the million pounds of butter.  And it’s sooooo swweeeeeet.  I even made it with a cup less sugar than the Pillsbury recipe calls for.

I don’t know.  I’d be curious to have more people give this bizarre chocolate cake a whirl and tell me what you think of the final results.

Chocolate Delight: Mahogany Cake

Mahogany Cake: cocoa powder and brown sugar.

Have you ever read A Cake Bakes in Brooklyn?  You should.  Some months ago, the author loaned me a book by a mysterious cake maven named Mrs. Osborne.  Read more about this fascinating woman, with a unique perspective on how to bake a cake, here.

I’ve baked one recipe from Mrs. Osborne’s book, a fairly unsuccessful Puff Cake.  But another recipe captured my attention, a brown sugar and chocolate confection called Mahogany Cake.

Mahogany Cake
From Mrs. Osborne’s Cakes of Quality, by Mrs. Grace Osborne, 1919.

I didn’t have the pans she wanted, so I baked it in a regular rectangular cake pan, which I buttered and dusted with cocoa powder.  The milk, sugar and cocoa powder comes to a quick boil, so watch out for that.  After I mixed the flour in, the batter was super smooth; when the melted chocolate was added, it was very velvety, just like Mrs. Osborne promised.  Don’t forget the teaspoon of vanilla at the end; she doesn’t list it in the ingredients.

When completed, the batter tasted like hot fudge.  The cake showed promise.  But here comes round two, Baking the Cake.  Pay careful attention, it is detailed:

I ALWAYS managed to fuck this part up, because I forget to reset the timer.  That’s how the Puff Cake got overcooked and tough last time; this time I forgot to set the timer after 230 degrees.  So I went from 230 to 300 in the last 15 minutes. Grr.

The  results: the cake had a nice fudgy flavor.  I actually do not like chocolate cake (Short story: my mother was a prize baker, once she was testing a million chocolate cake recipes, I ate too much cake and puked.  Haven’t been able to stomach it since.)  but the flavor was rich enough I didn’t find it off putting.  But the texture was not great: although the top was most, the center and bottom of the cake was really dry and unpleasant.  That’s the same problem I had when I made the puff cake.

Mrs. Osborne’s ridiculous baking methods seem like they’ll be worth the trouble; they stink of some long forgotten baking secret.  But in reality, the long, low bake time seems to dry the cakes out.  Thumbs down, Mrs. O.

The History Dish: Birthday Cakes

It’s my birthday today!  So naturally, I got curious about the history of birthday cakes.  This is the earliest b-day recipe on the books, from Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, published 1870:

The “cakes” are actually cookies; but the most interesting part of this recipe is the directions to “sprinkle colored caraway seeds on top.”  Colored could perhaps mean “toasted.”  It could mean dyed with natural dyes. It could mean candied.

But does it mean that “colored caraway seeds” are proto-sprinkles?  Jimmies?  Hundreds and Thousands?


At any rate, I decided not to make these cakes for my birthday: I anticipate them to be floury, dry, and full of currants.  Very 19th century and not my favorite style of cookie.  Instead, I’m baking an apple up-side-down cake and a plum cake, and my friend Jeffrey is arriving with a vegan delight.  The more cakes, the better, I say.

Events: Timeline of Taste at Trade School

On Sunday, I taught a class at Trade School; it was a brief (but edible) overview of the last 200 years of America’s favorite flavors.  These photos were taken by my friend Ilana, and I think her description of the class sums it up best:

We feasted on treats from several time periods, “A Rich Cake” by Amelia Simmons from 1796 was by far my favorite. Dense and full of “stuff”, it was AWESOME. Not to mention from a 1796 recipe to boot……

Speaking of the Trade School, however, holy moly what an amazing place. As per their website:

“Take a class every night with a range of specialized teachers in exchange for basic items and services. Secure a spot in a Trade School class by meeting one of the teacher’s barter needs.”

So the classes are essentially free. Sarah’s class cost me two dozen eggs. Can’t be beat for such a wonderful range of classes in such a cozy space.

**Note on the above pics, unfortunately I was so engrossed in the class that I completely forgot about my camera till we got to the last recipe – a jokey take on Charlotte Russe, a popular 19th c. street food (ed. note: actually early 20th century street food, but a popular dessert in different forms since the 18th century). We made ours with store bought lady fingers, whipped cream from a can and maraschino cherries……yum? A take on 1950’s convienence food.

Assembling Charlotte Russe.

This Charlotte Russe is a little bit sad–the Reddi Whip was warm, so it melted pretty fast.

On the left, “A Rich Cake” and on the right a currant cake from the 1840s.

One of my students brought me this lovely bottle of port as barter for my class.  She included a recipe for port wine fudge from her home state of California.  So nice!

Trade School is only around until the end of the month, so sign up for a class here.  And if you missed this event, never fear!  Pancakes Aplenty is on March 7th at Old Stone House.

Events: Save the Dates for Cakes, Pancakes, and Beer.

Want a mouth full of history? Then mark your calender for these free events!

Sunday, February 21st
A Timeline of Taste: A Brief Overview of the Last 200 Years
4:30pm – 5:30pm
At Trade School
139 Norfolk Street, New York, NY
Free for barter.

I’m offering an hour-long class through Trade School.

Our idea of what “tastes good” is constantly changing. In this class, we will take a look at the constant flux of America’s culinary preferences, from the publication of the first American cookbook in 1796 to the swell of convenience food in the 1940s and 50s. To inspire our discussion, we will be sampling four different cakes from four different eras, and will make one of these desserts in the class. And with your help, we’ll bring our exploration to the present day with a selection of contemporary dishes.

Trade School offers these classes through a barter system; when you sign up, you can choose to bring a small item to trade for the class. There are a limited number of seats available, so reserve yours today! Sign up here.

Sunday, March 7th
Pancakes a Plenty!
11am – 1pm
At Old Stone House
336 3rd Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Brought to you by the New York 19th Century Society.

Old Stone House lights up its hearth for a spring pancake celebration, featuring culinary creations by historic gastronomist Sarah Lohman. Pancakes a Plenty! presents three historic pancake recipes sure to please the modern palate: Pumpkin Cornmeal; Apple and Sour Milk; and Clove and Rosewater.

Pulled from the pages of 18th and 19th century New England cookbooks, these recipes have the flavor of New York life from another era. Prepared over an open fire, the pancakes will be served with all the fixins’ as well as hot drinks.

We’ll keep serving pancakes until the pancakes run out. So stop by and sample some slapjacks

Saturday, April 10th
The Boston 19th C. Pub Crawl
Starting at 5:30pm
Meet at Eastern Standard
528 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA
Free, but drinks are additional.

We’re taking the 19th Century Pub Crawl on the road to Boston! The evening will start at Eastern Standard, a contemporary bar that “…Breathe(s) life into forgotten cocktails of the past as well as conjuring up new classics.” They’ll be featuring several cocktails for the Crawl, including their house special the “19th Century,” and offering a selection of house-made hors d’oeuvres. From there, we’ll crawl to Boston’s oldest pubs, some stretching back to the 17th century! Our proposed route (subject to change) can be found here.

Saturday, May 15th
The New York 19th C. Pub Crawl
Starting at 6pm
Meet at Madame X
New York, NY
Free, but drinks are additional.

In the wake of last fall’s amazing New York 19th C. Crawl, we’re planning a whole new route! This spring, visit some of New York’s oldest taverns and most notorious dens of vice on 10th Ave. Formerly along Manhattan’s western waterfront, these inns served sailors drinks, drafts and entertainment. Our proposed route (subject to change) can be found here.

Events: Emily Dickinson’s Birthday Bash!

You are invited to celebrate Emily Dickinson’s birthday on Thursday, December 10th, at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC.  The event starts at 6pm, and is free!

It’s a particularly special night for me because it is the premiere of Emily: Her True Self, a short film I’m working on with artist Flash Rosenberg and the Lower East Side Girls Club.

And like any good birthday party, there will be CAKE!  Emily Dickinson’s “Black Cake,” a fruitcake recipe found amongst the poet’s papers.  I’m not baking it, but I will be there eating it.

Read more about the event here.  And if you can’t make it down to the Bowery for a night of poetry and premieres, then celebrate at home with a slice of Miss Dickinson’s cake.  It’s a traditional fruitcake, so it’s perfect for the holidays.  A recipe adapted for modern kitchens is printed below; try as I might, I couldn’t track down a copy of Dickinson’s original recipe online (although if anyone out there attends Harvard, you could get your hands on a copy).

Like any good fruitcake, you should let it sit in the back of your fridge for about a month before serving.  And don’t forget the 179 birthday candles.

Emily Dickinson’s Black Cake
From Emily Dickinson: Profile of the Poet as a Cook by the Guides at the Dickinson Homestead.
As reprinted on Down the Rabbit Hole

2 cups sugar
1/2 lb. butter
5 eggs
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp clove
1 tsp mace
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground
1/4-1/2 cup brandy
1 lb. raisins
2/3 cup currants
2/3 lb. citron (buy citron here)
Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom of the oven.  Preheat oven to 225 F. Add sugar gradually to butter;  blend until light and creamy.   Add unbeaten eggs and molasses.  Beat well. Re-sift flour with soda and spices. If you’re using unsalted butter, add 1/2 tsp salt. Beat sifted ingredients into mixture, alternately adding brandy. Stir in raisins, currants, and citron.
Pour batter into two loaf pans lined with waxed paper. Bake at 225F for 3 hours.  Remove pan of water for last 1/2 hour. Let loaves cool before removing from pans. Remove paper and wrap in fresh paper.

New York’s Best Wedding Cakes and Fancy Fast Food

I wanted to share with you two videos that I am particularly proud of. I did them both recently for The Feedbag.

The first profiles Sylvia Weinstock, New York’s premiere wedding cake maker. She’s been in the biz over thirty years and is completely adorable. Her wares come at a price, however. She quoted $600 for a two-layer shower cake.

The second video I made with Erik Trinidad of While I can’t direct relate it to historical cookery, I wanted to share this video with you because watching Erik transform Chicken McNuggets into a high-end confit is just plain fun.